Without warnings what is the point of the Met office?

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I still blame Michael Fish. Remember that October evening in 1987, when he turned away from his beloved charts, looked straight into the camera and said: 'Earlier on today, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't.'

At that very moment the most ferocious storm to hit the south coast for more than 250 years was gusting its way through the Western Approaches.

The following day, people from Caerphilly to Colchester were picking their way to work between fallen oaks, shattered chimney pots and telephone poles lolling at unnatural angles.

Fish then compounded his insouciance by insisting that what had laid to waste much of the Home Counties was not, technically, a hurricane.

Since then, weather forecasters in general and the Met Office in particular, have been a little self-conscious when it comes to making grand predictions.

Their fingers were burned (or not, as the case may be) by the prognosis of a 'barbecue summer' through which the nation splashed and waded in 2009.

Now comes the news that the Met Office realised we were in for 'an exceptionally cold winter'.

But it decided to refrain from sharing its little secret with the rest of us because it did not wish to suffer further embarrassment if the dire prediction failed to come true.

It was kind enough to share the bad tidings with the Cabinet Office, who apparently kept it to themselves.

This was presumably because they couldn't trust the rest of us not to dash out and strip the supermarket shelves of long-life milk at the first hint of the next Ice Age.

But this odd mixture of stifled information and bureaucratic sensitivity does beg one obvious question. What exactly is the point of the Met Office? Its own website cites one of its primary responsibilities as being the dispensation of weather warnings for the UK.

But if barbecue-summergate has turned their collective skin a trifle thin, and they are now wary about being made to look foolish, can we trust them to warn us of the prospect of extreme weather ever again?